14.10.12

Recollections--The Art of Conversation Su, U Implied K/U [PG]


Image: Courtesy of Trekcore and Photo Shop
Disclaimer:  The characters belong to paramount, their actions are mine.

Summary: A new series called Recollections, a look at Kirk and Uhura's relationship through the eyes of others.  This installment: Sulu.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


"So, why do you do it, Yota?"  The question was simple; the true answer anything but.  Hikaru Sulu sat alone with Nyota Uhura--friends for decades but some things were still unspoken.  Forbidden.

"Do what?"  Her challenge was automatic--a deflection she did not expect to need tonight.  Sulu normally understood the gentle art of conversation--where questions were circumspect and answers even more careful.

It was the reason such conversations were held only between the two of them.  Their usual third--Chekov--was avoided during these questionable bouts of introspection.  He was too earnest--too direct--too in awe of the man who originally brought him on as a raw ensign.  That he was now a commander, recently XO of another ship, did little to mute the hero worship in his eyes.

"Stay--come back no matter what else you're in the middle of?"  This was not delicate--it trashed the sensibilities that existed between them.  Many things were known but never spoken, years of ship life having honed their ability to read each other.  It was a survival trait developed over years of guarding each other's back on countless away missions.  It was a skill so recently put through hell and more.  Now Sulu crossed the line--he asked a question whose answer would remove the final veneer between them.  At least he had the decency to blush.

"Be careful, Ru--truths beget truths...." Nyota warned in a casual purr, her eyes flicking to the side, broaching the bartender's practiced indifference.  Her hand tapped softly on the table, advising him to bring another round.  Both parties recognized it as a ploy to buy time, but the question remained awkwardly between them.

It spoke of deeper loyalties--questioned the boundaries of professional versus not.  No crew was like the Enterprise's crew--coming back again and again to serve a man - Captain or Admiral - no matter the cost to their own careers.  They were used to the blunt questions from outsiders, the quieter innuendos or outright gossip in her specific case.  But from each other it was never discussed.  Each of them had their own motivations and it was understood by all that it was something shared, yet private.  It was subliminal, almost instinctual.  You didn't need to talk about breathing--you just breathed.

"It's not pushed back a Captaincy for me, Ru."  That stung.  It was true that accepting Kirk's request to man the helm during their last training mission most likely cost him the Excelsior.  A new ship of the line, its delivery date had been moved up by months, the rush another ill advised effort by Starfleet to meet some arbitrary deadline.  Had Sulu been slotted for any other mission he was sure his promotion would have superseded it.  But even the Admiralty seemed to falter when an assignment involved Kirk.  Naming Stiles captain had caught them all off guard.  The private comm after the announcement was just that--private.  Kirk's apologies meant a lot but could not fill that void in his heart--the deep abyss he understood all too well when he looked into Kirk's eyes.  

Now, in the ugly aftermath of Khan, Klingons and alien probes, Sulu found he was miraculously cleared of all charges but his name was no longer near the top of the promotions list.   Kirk had been rewarded by the Council with a ship.  At present, a nameless shadow of his great love--a rush to make some grand gesture for saving Earth's human population--but still a ship.   Yet Sulu could in no way consider it a fair trade for the loss of a son--he could not imagine losing Demora in the same manner as Kirk lost David.  In the grand scheme of things Sulu considered himself a lucky man.  He was not alone.

"True, but I have a daughter."  Not 'still' only 'have' -- the comment not being directed at Kirk but more toward the woman who sat in front of him.  That the relationship which produced the daughter crashed and burned was not the subject.  Just the fact he had found someone and stayed with them long enough to want a child spoke volumes.  The remark felt unworthy of being spoken aloud but it did not make it less true.

That did more than sting.  She lifted her glass and toasted his very jagged point, his response a non sequitur to anyone but them.

"And a very beautiful child she is." Nyota ceded gracefully, choosing to take the hit rather than strike back.  She loved children but never chose to have any of her own.  The men in her life never inspired that sort of commitment and she would not bring a child into the world without the father being a part of their life.  Uhura knew the men she gravitated toward were poor substitutes for someone she could not have.  It was not possible and never meant to be but the attraction remained.  It was quiet and well-hidden but those who remained from the beginning recognized and accepted its existence without any tangible proof.

For the first time her eyes cut over to a table on the far side of the bar.  It was a quick glance, almost casual to anyone else.  But Sulu caught the involuntary glance toward the man who could provoke those feelings--love and commitment--in Nyota.  The man sat with Admiral Cartwright, friend and recent champion for Kirk and his crew in the Council debate regarding their disposition. 

"We all give up things to serve, Ru, some more than others."  That barb struck bone.  Nyota did not need Sulu to point out what she might have given up to further her career, what she continued to deny by coming when beckoned.  Spock had given up his life; Kirk had killed his ship and lost his son.  It suddenly made their sacrifices seem trivial.

"I think I'm going to call it a night, okay?  Winning a reprieve was worth a toast but perhaps I've had one toast too many."  It was as much of an apology as one could give without acknowledging the insult.  She rose, now studiously avoiding the hazel eyes that caught her movement.  Sulu gently ignored her sudden interest in the table.  It was time to be polite again--time to avoid the truth and crawl back into their separate shells of denial.  He stood with her, brushing his lips carefully against her cheek.  He smiled a forgiving smile--the same one she reflected back to him.  Tonight was a near thing--a layer of skin too much maybe but not above healing.

Sulu sat back down to finish his drink, remembering was not high on his list of things to do tonight, but movement from the corner still caught his eye.  Broad shoulders squared themselves as the admiral rose from his chair.  He smiled at Cartwright, thanking him for whatever influence he swayed in the Council's decision.  Their eyes caught as Kirk straightened--his eyes looking hard at Sulu for the briefest of seconds.  Sulu tilted his head toward the door--the direction of Nyota's departure.  Again, a nearly imperceptible nod was given his way as Kirk excused himself.  His stride was sure and quick--only in pursuit if one knew the prize.

~Finis 

27.2.11

At the Coming of the Dawn K/U [PG]

Image: courtesy of Paramount, Trekcore and Photoshop
Disclaimer: The characters are Paramount's, their actions are mine.

Summary: What is the penance for taking what you desire?

~~~

In the ambient honesty of dawn's faint light she glimpsed the smooth edifice of shouldered muscle. The fragile glow cast it pale, but without doubt the full appraisement of morning would find kindred gold. Her eyes bore the light, choosing to accept its part in their condemnation--a fair trade for the singular moment to gape--to fleetingly glory in the unrepentant forelock that made years forgotten. She felt her heart take notice of the languid, delicate lashes provoking more than envy. She chose to ignore the probability they hid eyes that would wake with doubt, a morning brimming with good judgment and no alcohol would sway the verdict against them repeating their offense. For now the lips were softly innocent, only slightly swollen from their passioned abuse hours before. The cut of his temple and jaw silently petitioned her to once again taste their saltiness. A come-hither pulse at the base of his throat invited attention, its blemished hollow an evidence neatly covered.


Would that her own guilt could be so easily hidden--but she was no longer someone who dwelled on 'if only'. These five years had taught her to act--to seek instead of wistfully hoping.


And now it was done. A shore-leave too many some would say. But would *he* say it? In her mathematics, his was the only opinion that mattered. It was circumstantial at best if others saw them leave together. Nothing unusual in that--chivalry was not only bestowed upon visiting alien princesses. But if last night ended on an invitation to stay, who need know? If their mission was down to its bitter dregs, with little time left for chimeric fantasies, who would cast the first stone?


No, she knew her chief prosecutor would come from within. Upon their first light his eyes would greet her in awkward kindness, no rebuke in them for her enticement the night before. He would only find fault in his lack of resistance--the expectations of a saint ground down to a humanness history knew too well.


And so it would be: him quietly castigating himself for being mortal and her able to change nothing. It was not fair, she knew that before ever asking him to stay. It was the price to be paid between them--the sentencing for intimacy realized. But for now he slept and she was content to smile in the quiet and ache in the afterglow.


~finis


4.12.10

And Thanks Were Given K/U [NC-17]

Image courtesy of my fledgling Photoshop skills.
Disclaimer: Paramount owns Star Trek. I only own my fantasies.

Beta: Flying solo on this one. You've been warned.

Summary: Takes place just as Kirk ends his two year retirement before TWOK. Not a part of my Realizations series just a story written for the THFFF 'A Story Posted before the end of the Holidays Challenge'.

~~~

"Nyota, please tell me you weren't so noble and idealistic that you never made a play for him all those years ago--all those lonely, lonely nights out in deep space... ."

Commander Uhura gave her oldest friend from Starfleet Academy, Kiki Morrow, a look that could peel deutronium. "We've had this conversation before, Kiki, I'm never going to tell you anything--especially when I know it will go straight back to *Admiral* Morrow.

Only her eyes moved, taking in the subject of their conversation: Jim Kirk, or possibly, newly reactivated Admiral James T. Kirk, late of Idaho and rumored soon to be Starfleet Academy's command-track supervising admiral. Waning afternoon glare made both women invisible to the men standing outside on the deck. Intent upon his subject, Kirk stood immobile, dressed in casual civilian attire, the intimate drape of his sweater confirming two years of retirement had not diminished the man talking with Admiral Harry Morrow.

"Nyota, you know I would never tell Harry anything like that. Besides, he is the *last* person to judge someone on that topic." At Uhura's raised brow, Kiki rolled her eyes--"Oh, stop it. I made an honest man of him by our second tour."

"I'm not judging." Nyota threw up her hands in surrender, only now quietly suspecting her invitation to the Morrow's Thanksgiving dinner was more than an attempt to share a holiday with an old friend. It had been years since their last real get together but Kiki's penchant for playing matchmaker reminded Nyota of her reason for the gap.

The politics of the situation became another consideration. Two years ago Kirk resigned rather than accept another promotion--one geared to assure his being named Commander Starfleet when Admiral Nogura finally stepped down. Several months later, word of Nogura's illness became known and the jackals started vying for position. Harry Morrow, one of Kirk's peers and 'friendly' rivals, wanted the job, fighting hard for consideration. A few years older than Kirk, Harry seemed to be Nogura's perennial second choice. Kirk suddenly removing himself from the equation limited Nogura's options and broadened Harry's opportunities.

And now scuttlebutt was that he was working hard to recruit Kirk back to the Academy to oversee the command cadets, a new flag position allowing him the authority to rewrite the curriculum as he saw fit. Morrow might not have the power to give Kirk a ship again; he did not yet have the absolute authority Nogura once wielded, but he was trying to give Kirk something of value: the chance to make a difference in shaping the young minds that would go out into the dark.

Would it be enough? And how did she fit into the equation?--quarry?--test?--reward? It was not lost to Uhura that Kiki was a starship and Starfleet medical psychoanalyst long before she transferred to the diplomatic corps.

"Sometimes it just is what it looks like, Nyota." Kiki's prescience only reinforced Uhura's suspicions but she hardly had an option to leave without hurting her friend and potential patron. "Now let's take this wine outside; I only promised them a drink twenty minutes ago. I hope bringing you out with me will keep the heckling down to a low roar."

"Then you're lucky it's wine and not Saurian brandy," Uhura scolded good-naturedly. Kirk liked wine, but it did not hold a candle against his preference for brandy.

"I'll remember that for after dinner," Kiki quipped and Uhura had faith she would.

At the sound of the door opening both Kirk and Morrow turned to see who was coming out to join them. Morrow smiled, motioning the ladies over; acutely aware the two former colleagues were silently staring at each other. "Kiki, bring Commander Uhura over here. I think these two might have some catching up to do."

Uhura moved after a nudge from Kiki, her eyes still examining Kirk. His hair was darker and curlier than when she saw him last. "Commander," he greeted formally, his posture quietly going on alert.

"Admiral," Nyota answered in kind--not sure how to acknowledge him after two years. Two years without even a goodbye.

"Oh my God, is that any way to greet each other? Jim Kirk, allow me to introduce Nyota Uhura. I believe you two have met." At Kiki's snicker, Uhura realized that the Admiral's wife was not the only one attempting a bit of matchmaking.

Kirk's head tilted at the friendly chastisement but hardly appeared reprimanded. Leaning in, he softly brushed his lips against Nyota's cheek. "Hello Nyota, you look as beautiful as ever."

"Thank you--Jim." The name came hard for her--she had always used his title to keep a certain distance between them. His reputation notwithstanding, Kirk always ignored gender on the bridge and successful officers learned to do the same. "It's so nice to see you again."

"Harry promised me a treat if I came over for Thanksgiving," Kirk announced, cutting his eyes over to the admiral in recognition of the social set up. "I thought he was talking about Kiki's home cooking--"

"Speaking of home cooking," Kiki interrupted none too subtlety, "Harry, I need your help in the kitchen," pushing him toward the doorway.

"Yes, dear," Morrow laughed, allowing his much smaller wife to man-handle him into the house.

"You'd never know she is one of the Federation's best diplomats." Kirk shook his head in grinning disbelief.

Handing him his nearly forgotten wine, Nyota laughed. "I think she's just acting out because she can. A Starfleet admiral and a former member of his crew are hardly likely to start a war just because she invites us to the same party."

"I see your point, but I think she enjoys social arbitration as much as the diplomatic kind." Kirk stared at the door, as if expecting Kiki to reappear.

"And there's that too." Uhura could not deny that aspect of her friend's personality.

"It *is* great to see you again, Nyota." Kirk's eyes softened, morphing from mischievous into something that caused Uhura's stomach to do a little flip.

"I've missed you." Where had that come from? Two years of silence did not earn him such a confession. Caught off guard by her admission, Kirk's eyes widened, allowing Uhura to see they were the same warm hazel color she remembered.

Touched by her words, Kirk stepped in close, forcing Uhura to look up at him as he made his apology. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you goodbye."

"At first I was angry that you just left, but I got over it. Doctor McCoy told me a few things he probably shouldn't have." A chance dinner with McCoy clued her in that Kirk made good his threat from all those years ago--to quit rather than be forced once more into a position he did not want. After the V'ger crisis Nogura allowed Kirk the freedom of a ship again rather than lose him altogether. But two years ago the fleet commander knew he was losing the battle to keep his condition quiet and tried to bring Kirk back into the fold. Kirk balked and the Admiral called his bluff only to find it wasn't a bluff at all. Kirk resigned.

Later, after word of Nogura's chronic illness became common knowledge, it suddenly became clear as to why he had fast-tracked Kirk's career. Nogura, the man who technically served at the discretion of the Federation Council, but in reality guided their agenda more times than not, was looking for a replacement, a will as indomitable as his own. He found one in Kirk but realized much too late that the young man he blazed through the ranks, tempered on risk and adrenaline, would no longer bend to his ambitions.

"No, he probably shouldn't have but I learned long ago Bones couldn't keep a secret--at least not one of mine." At Nyota's raised brow for calling McCoy out, he continued. "Yes, I've always played my own game, but sometimes it costs me. A lot."

"But you're back now?" Uhura asked cautiously, not sure how much he was willing to share.

"I think the spring semester should prove to be very interesting." He smiled archly over the rim of his wine stem. "Care to go back to school?"

Kiki chose that moment to announce it was time to eat, allowing Uhura a moment of grace to process his question as anything other than a request to rejoin his staff. His hand coming to rest on the small of her back as they entered the house did not help matters. How could he just pop back into her life after two years and pick up where he left off? Was he now being as presumptuous as Nogura had been of him?

Two years was a long time to be out of the loop. Detractors branded Kirk a thankless son for leaving just when Nogura needed him. Some were angry, declaring his career advancement wasn't earned but a carrot others were never given. They were not the majority of the Fleet, but a vocal enough minority to cause a stir in Morrow's administration at the news of his possible return. While Nyota had her own reasons to be angry with his leaving, she subscribed to neither critical opinion of her former commander. She suspected Kiki invited her to dinner to discover just this fact.

~~~
Surprisingly, dinner was a mundane but pleasant affair, no politics or work discussion, just an enjoyable meal shared between friends. Kiki announced her love for the holidays, saying it was an opportunity to express herself through food.

"What?" By the look of Jim's overfilled plate, Nyota thought he might be attempting to express his gratitude through eating. "I've been working out."

"Oh, yes, Jim, she noticed." Kiki taunted, doing her own once over of Kirk's physique. Uhura's scathing look did not affect Kiki at all. Jim, for the most part, chose to keep his smirk to a minimum.

"My mom always told me the greatest compliment one could give a cook was an empty plate." Kirk tossed out in his own defense.

"I like how your Mama thinks, Jim." Kiki nodded support. "I was surprised when Harry said he got you to come over today. I thought you'd be back in Iowa."

"Normally I would, but this year Mom decided to visit extended family off planet." A flash of something else--regret? Loneliness maybe--touched his eyes before being pushed away. "Thanks for inviting me."

"You're welcome, Jim. I couldn't let Nyota sit there and stare across at an empty chair, now could I?"

"Admir--Jim, please don't answer that." Nyota interrupted in only partially feigned frustration.

"Whatever is the matter, Nyota? You know how I *love* to entertain." Innocence was actually a becoming, if unbelievable, look for Kiki.

"Nyota, you can't do anything with her--believe me--I've tried," Harry offered in warmhearted commiseration, "Happy Thanksgiving, everyone." He raised his glass in a toast, plainly wasting a chastising glance upon an unrepentant Kiki.

"Happy Thanksgiving!"

~~~

In the end Kiki got her way. Dessert destroyed, food put away, and kitchen cleaned, it was only a matter of time before someone mentioned going home.

"Oh, Jim, be a dear and take Nyota home. You have a flitter and she came by cab."

"I'd be happy to," Kirk answered, graciously giving in to Kiki's antics.

Pointedly ignoring Kiki's victorious grin, Nyota answered drily, "Thank you, Jim, I'll just get my jacket."

"I'm so going to hurt you, Kiki," Uhura softly threatened the woman who followed her into the bedroom.

"What? You can't mean you didn't enjoy having dinner with Jim." Kiki just rolled her eyes at Nyota's rebuke.

"He's my Admir--he's my former CO, Kiki. It's a bit awkward to be fixed up on a blind date with your former commander." Being in his company was one thing - Kiki's blatant efforts to match them up were something else.

"I don't see why--he's hot. You obviously like each other. Oh, don't give me that look again; I've been getting it all night. You can't deny you find him attractive. I read faces for a living for God's sake--I know attraction when I see it."

"That's beside the point. I feel like you set me up as a prize or something." Uhura's internal sensors were blaring their own red alert.

"No, just a friendly face--if not old crew--who?" The question was spoken just a bit too casually to be innocent.

Still couched out of context, Nyota finally heard Kiki's real question. "Maybe we'd be the ones to have the biggest issue. He left. No goodbye. No nothing."

"So, how does he win you back?" The tone was serious, the old friend gone, replaced by the cold stare of an inquisitioner.

"I'm not a trophy." Nyota found her own mettle.

"Really?" Kiki challenged, incredulous that Nyota could not recognize her worth. "You don't think you're something to win? He wants you back--he asked for you. Maybe you aren't a reward, but he does want you back in his professional life. Anything else you make of it is between the two of you."

"Your little party was just a ruse to get us together and see how it went--to see how I would react to his coming back." It was not phrased as a question but Nyota's eyes still searched Kiki's face for an answer.

"Was it? Am I that manipulative?" Kiki's Cheshire smile did little to deny the accusation.

"You better believe it. I know you Kiki Morrow. Harry is going to give Kirk carte blanche at the Academy--both their reputations will ride on how well he is received. You very much want Jim to succeed--he would be a great asset to Harry--but you'd have no compunction against changing his mind if you thought it would destabilize his control of the Admiralty." Nyota found her own voice wound tight with anger.

"I'm glad we understand each other. Now, are you going to stand up for Kirk or stay on the sidelines? I can't see you vocally joining his critics, but keeping quiet is just as effective for someone in your position." Kiki seemed satisfied, as if Nyota's indignation was exactly what she sought.

"Kiki, dear, I'll always have the Admiral's back and you should remember that if you ever decide to switch teams." Banking her own anger Nyota smiled without humor. She might not be in the Admiralty but she knew where plenty of bodies were buried. Her thoughts of Kirk returning were her own--private. She would not allow Kiki to use them against the man she had served for multiple tours.

The diplomat dipped her head in acknowledgement, understanding Uhura's threat was not an idle one. "Then we won't have a problem. Shall we go?"

~~~

Their companionable smiles were back in place as they reentered the living room.

"Thank you both, I had a wonderful time." Uhura smiled sincerely, at least to Harry. While she did not think him totally innocent of Kiki's plan, she doubted he knew the true nature of her intent. One of Harry's weaknesses, and Nogura's biggest issue with considering Morrow as his replacement, was his tendency to only read the surface motivations of another. True, with Kiki at his side, Morrow was more than covered on that front, but it was a very big flaw for someone in such a political arena.

Giving hugs all around, Kiki continued to play the gracious hostess. "Of course you did, dear. All my parties are wonderful because I only invite exceptional people. Now remember, nothing strenuous until everyone's had a chance to digest dinner." Uhura had to give Kiki credit, she was the consummate actress.

"I'm going now." Under the guise of exhausted patience Nyota hugged Morrow goodbye before turning on her heel and walking out the door, leaving Kirk to make his own goodbyes.

Secured in the quietness of the flitter Kirk and Uhura looked at each other, breathing a sigh of relief before bursting out in laughter. "I'm sorry, Nyota." Jim began, trying to restrain himself by focusing on keying in the coordinates to Nyota's house.

"Don't be, Jim, she's *my* friend. I should know better than to think an invitation to her home is purely social."

"I know her too and I fell for it. I should have guessed she'd try to find me a dinner date."

Keeping the conversation on the most obvious subterfuge, Nyota discovered martyrdom was pretty easy to fake. "Yes, that's me, once again pressed into 'safe' escort duty."

Bruised ego in waiting, a look of hurt flashed across Jim's face. "Was it really that bad?"

"Of course not; I always had a great time and was allowed to experience so much more than my rank warranted. It's just--" Nyota caught herself, almost forgetting to whom she was speaking.

"Just what?" Jim prompted, eager to know.

"I just wish it hadn't always been so--so--safe." Realizing she had no way out but with the truth, Uhura said the word blandly, attempting to hide her embarrassment with humor.

"Now she tells me." He rolled his eyes in good-humored exasperation, much more playful than she remembered him to be.

She smiled back, liking the change in him. "Oh, to know then what we know now."

"As I remember it, you informed me early on that your job did not involve 'entertaining' the captain in any way. I always thought your willingness to play escort a great concession." His tone implied he recalled it quite differently.

Uhura was glad he could not see the blush that memory made her feel. Trying to make sure her position was on solid ground she had nearly called him out in her initial interview. "Can you blame me? I was the only female on your command staff--you knew your reputation was--"

"Did you believe it?"

"I was--wary--at first, but I soon recognized you treated me like every other officer. Most of the time I appreciated that, but there was the occasional planetary ball or diplomatic gala where I wished you saw me as a woman." Her smile contained more than a bit of wistfulness.

"Oh believe me, Nyota; I always knew you were a woman," His playfulness transforming into resignation at another cost of command, "But most of the time being captain did not allow for personal choice."

Nyota was rescued from answering that remark by their arrival to her brownstone. Kirk exited the flitter, coming around to escort her to the door.

"Thank you, Jim. Is it safe to invite you in for a nightcap?" Nostalgia made her brave.

Laughing at her challenge his darkening eyes told her much more than his words. "As safe as you want it to be, Nyota."

Feeling a rush as her heart skipped a beat, Uhura looped her arm through his, encouraging him through the door. "I thought I'd already told you my opinion about that."

~~~
At her insistence Kirk sat on the sofa and watched as Uhura quickly hung their coats on the rack before pouring them both a brandy. She passed Jim his drink as she sat comfortably, kicking off her shoes and curling one leg beneath her as she settled next to him.

After touching his glass to hers he sipped the amber liquid, letting it warm him from the inside. Nyota found herself hyperaware of him-watching the unintentional grimace and tensing of his throat as the alcohol burned its way down.

"You never answered me." The statement pulled her eyes back to his, making Nyota focus on the question rather than the body before her.

"What was the question?" She remembered his flip remark about returning to school but needed him to put it out there, to make a real request for her services if he wanted them.

"If I come back to the Academy, I want you to join my staff. I know you're focused on your research but I'd work around that if you'd be willing."

"Willing to what?" She did not miss the 'if' but that would come next.

"Willing to teach the cadets what it really means to run the communications department of a starship. How one minute it's listening to quasar blips and the next it's translating a first contact. How communicating is more than the language of a culture--how not to get everyone killed by making assumptions based upon your own. They learn syntax and translator algorithms. I want you to teach them the practical application of all that and more--the science and the instinct of it all."

More than slightly daunted by his expectations and faith but refusing to show it, Nyota followed up with her second question. "And what do you mean by 'if you come back'? I thought you had accepted Morrow's proposal."

"Let's just say it's still in negotiation but I'm confident I'll be wreaking havoc on Spock by the spring semester." His eyes warmed at the mention of their favorite Vulcan, the one currently commanding the Enterprise as an academy training vessel.

"I'm sorry Jim, I need more detail than that in order to rearrange my life this time." She did not flinch as he turned his singular attention on her, the admiral finally making an appearance. "It sounds exciting but my research is very important to me too. To build the kind of curriculum you're asking of me will require more than two weeks notice. Who am I kidding, it would take me until the fall to get something viable outlined and implemented."

His eyes lost all humor, replaced by the look of someone facing an ugly truth. "Nyota, you realized there was much more going on at the Morrow's than a nice meal and a chance meeting between old friends.

"You were right earlier, I'm *not* safe. Politically, I'm damaged goods to Morrow and he is too new in his position to risk the wrath of the Admiralty. I have many friends there but quite a few enemies too. My rise through the ranks was at some of their expense. He'd be an idiot to bring me back until he's sure it won't cost him. Harry is no idiot.

"Kiki used you as a sounding board. Old staff, strong attachments, someone I left without a backward glance when I found it impossible for me to stay. I know I have the support of Spock and Bones, but you've always been the emotional anchor of the command team. If you welcome me back, the others will too. I don't have the right to ask it of you but I need your help."

"I've been a captain's woman before. Why should your return as an admiral change anything?"

Kirk's forehead wrinkled in mild worry before his head dipped in tentative agreement. "Okay, I'm scared to know everything behind that statement but I take it you're in my court?"

"Jim, you have no idea the flak I've taken over the years for being on your team. While I am still insulted you left without a goodbye--regardless of circumstances--I prefer those issues to remain private between us. The Admiralty can kiss my pla'krus-dvunek. I'll always be in your court."

"I'm sure Spock will be glad to hear your rather creative use of Vulcan anatomy. I know I am." He found himself leaning forward, perhaps subconsciously sitting on edge awaiting her answer.

"I'm in the mood to accept apologies." She leaned in, closing the distance between them, her lips less than a breath away.

"I'm in the mood to offer those and more." His lips just caressed hers; Uhura felt more the idea of them touching than the reality of it. His breath warmed her cheek as he tilted his head to move in closer.

Her glass found the sofa table as she freed herself of unimportant details. She pushed herself up and into his kiss, this time finding no hesitancy as Jim's mouth covered hers. One of his hands cupped her jaw as the other slid under her hair to cradle her neck. Nyota lost herself in the moment, only recognizing the taste and touch of him, moving to discover the body that had distracted her all day.

"Why don't you take the wine upstairs and start a fire in the bedroom fireplace while I slip into something more comfortable?" She grinned against his lips, liking the film noir of her suggestion.

"Comfortable is good." He kissed back, nodding his approval. "Fire--fireplace--got it."

~~~

Kirk turned from lighting the logs in the old-fashioned fireplace as Nyota entered the bedroom wearing nothing but a long silk robe. His eyes looked her up and down, entranced by the curve of her hips and the tautness of her nipples straining against the soft fabric. She walked to him, placing her arms around his neck, pulling him into a kiss.

"That's not safe," he murmured huskily.

"Then I'm doing it right," she whispered back, her hands running down his body, slipping her fingers into the top of his jeans.

Turning Uhura toward the cheval mirror standing vigil in the corner, Kirk stepped behind her, his hands pulling her robe down from the top, exposing her breasts and trapping her arms in the sleeves. The front of the robe gaped, allowing him to see the manicured mass of curls between her legs. She was still partially draped, yet exposed much more erotically than if she were nude. Still holding her arms behind her with his left hand, he pulled her backward against him. Nyota sighed, closing her eyes as she leaned into his hardness.

"Nyota," his warm breath nuzzled her ear, "keep your eyes open. I want you to watch me make love to you in the mirror." His eyes reflected more than firelight.

She opened her eyes, finding herself a voyeur to her own seduction as Jim began to explore her body. His right hand moved across her breasts, caressing and gently kneading, making himself familiar with her skin. He continued roaming, descending his fingers into the curls beyond. Trapped by his gaze, Nyota gasped as he entered her with his index finger, his thumb slowly circling her clit. She was wet with excitement as she both watched and felt him move within her. He spread her legs by wrapping his right leg around hers, stepping outward to give himself better access. Nyota was effectively trapped, made completely vulnerable by their shift in balance. Her voice caught in her throat as Kirk nipped her neck and slipped another finger inside her.

She found it nearly impossible not to roll her eyes back inside her head as he whispered, "Watch, Nyota, watch me as I make love to you." His eyes tracked hers, their intensity holding her just as captive as his hand still encircling her wrists.

A third finger joined the other two before curling themselves inward. Nyota lost any control she might have once possessed. Her body grew rigid and clenched around his fingers before her knees buckled. Jim quickly let her arms go, keeping her upright by sliding his left arm around her waist. He kept her on the crest by pressing deep, continuing to rub her clit with his thumb.

As her spasms relented into only occasional tremors, Jim released Nyota's leg, holding her yet against him. Once able to focus, she was not surprised to find her robe completely open. Still through the mirror, she looked at his face, complimented by the open hunger of his eyes. She smiled, arching her back to capture his head with her upraised arms. "With a look like that I may never feel safe again."

His voice was hoarse as he turned her body into his, lips warning while seeking shelter, "That would be wise."

Still within his kiss, Nyota undid his belt and loosened his jeans, gently easing them down over his hips. Freeing his hardness from restraint, she started to drop down to her knees.

"Oh no," he scolded teasingly, lifting her to her feet and cajoling her toward the bed; "if you think I can take the same treatment you're sadly mistaken."

"What's the old adage? You can dish it out but you can't take it?" Nyota razzed as she elbowed herself toward the head of the bed, challenging him with a flash of her eyes.

"Maybe, but I'll show you what I can take." Jim pulled his sweater over his head, tossing it flagrantly onto the floor. He made short work of the rest of his jeans while she continued to appreciate his form, enjoying the casual flex of muscle his movements invoked.

As he crawled up the bed to cover her, Nyota understood exactly who was being 'taken'. Jim's lips found hers, his tongue feinting past. His hands firmly cupped her breasts before moving down to taste them. The tug of his teeth against her nipples sent a new tremor through Nyota's groin, priming her for the resonance that was to begin. Once again looking into her eyes, Kirk deftly pushed his cock into her wetness, joy-riding in that nanosecond of unity. Instinctively wrapping her legs against him, Nyota held him still, reveling in the same moment, seduced by the depth of all of him.

Jim smiled, understanding and appreciating the strength attempting to hold him in place, but just as easily pulling back and thrusting again. Nyota clenched around him, making him work for the backstroke. He laughed playfully, reaching down to hook one of her legs under his arm. Bracing himself with his other elbow he began a deep, insistent rhythm. When his pace quickened--became less sure--Nyota wiggled her leg free, planting her foot against the bed, matching him thrust for thrust. His fingers found their way between them, touching her once again. She felt herself tighten, the pressure and stretch of him driving her to the peak of another orgasm. He lost it at the same time, collapsing against her, shuddering hard with the force of his own.

~~~

"Nyota, I have to go soon." Warm breath caressed her neck, but the rumble of Jim's voice tickled her ear even more.

"Why, it's hardly morning?" The light from the bedroom window barely outlined his face as Nyota sleepily turned into his body, the warmth of him better than any blanket.

"I wasn't planning on being gone overnight. I have horses that need to be fed and watered." Picking up where he left off last night, he answered between nibbled kisses, making the chores sound erotic.

"Oh, so you really *did* go domestic, didn't you?" Nyota couldn't help but tease, fleeters, especially star-bound fleeters, did not take pets-- most did not even take mates unless they were shippers too. It was too hard to make arrangements--too painful to leave them behind when it was time to go.

"Well, I certainly have all the trappings of someone having tried." The tone was flip but his eyes looked away, the subtle deflection a warning she was nearing tender territory.

Snuggling in closer, Nyota brought his mind back to the present by stroking the hardness she found against her belly. She could not erase the last two years for him. At the moment she did not want to--as a civilian Kirk was a fair indulgence. "As delicious as you looked in that sweater yesterday, I think the uniform suits you best."

The compliment triggered a grin of enormous proportion as he announced, "I think the horses can hold out for just a bit longer," before indulging her once again.

~~~

"I can't believe I've let you talk me into teaching next semester. I mean, it's barely six weeks away!" Coming down from her recent high, the question of the night suddenly took center stage in Uhura's scrambled thoughts.

"You're not one for pillow talk much, are you?" Kirk laughed as he rolled to face Nyota's slightly panicked one.

"Jim--I'm being serious--don't laugh at me. I must be crazy to 've agreed to something so absurd. Six weeks to plan and outline a whole curriculum? No way!" She tried to sound angry but his continuing grin took most of the edge from her voice. "I guess I'm lucky I've got six weeks--you didn't know I would be at the Morrow's yesterday--you hadn't planned to ask me--"

"Sshhh," he softly scolded, tapping her lips into submission. "How can I ask you to do something until I know whether I'm going to be re-instated?"

"It didn't stop you from asking me last night--"

"Harry pretty much guaranteed me yesterday it was a done deal. He just has to work through any last minute bargaining. Your being there yesterday was provident--I couldn't pass up the opportunity. If you said no then it was probably not going to happen anyway." His tolerance for the gamesmanship going on with his future momentarily took Nyota off guard.

"You mean, if I said no, Kiki would make sure you didn't cause her husband any problems." Nyota felt no need to be generous in her opinion.

"Something like that." He smiled cheekily at her sudden protectiveness.

"Since when have I ever been able to tell you no?" She scoffed at the mere idea.

"Why does that sound dirtier than it is?" Dappling kisses along the edge of her jaw only made his question more ridiculous.

Nyota actually giggled before reining herself in, "Where have you been for the last eight hours?"

"Somewhere right about here, I think...." His hand moved sensuously along the inner curve of her thigh.

Capturing his hand with hers, she held it still. "Don't try to distract me, Jim. I'm really worried about this."

"Teaching? You've done it before." He seemed truly confused at her hesitancy.

"A lecture series--not a full program--and even then I had more than six weeks to plan." The difference was crystal clear to her.

"Relax. I may have taken the liberty of asking Spock to prepare a few outlines for your perusal if you agreed." Now understanding her panic, he took mercy.

"Spock? Outlines? Mister Spock doesn't know how to just outline." She froze in disbelief, realizing he was most likely sharing only a small portion of a far greater plan.

"He's thorough that way..."

"Wait--even he can't have done all of that in the short time you've been talking with Morrow--Whose idea was it *really* for you to take over the Command track cadets? Spock's?" Her suspicion only grew deeper at his smugness.

"It's his world--I just live in it." Others fell for his innocent grin; she knew he was at his most devious when it appeared.

"Right...but at the moment he needs your expertise in dealing with Command when they get in the way of his plans." She *knew* better than to underestimate them--two years of down time had made her rusty.

"When their resistance to new ideas is illogical, perhaps; Spock is brilliant, but he's not quite gotten the hang of putting just the right spin on it to get what he wants. Until then, he has me." He made it sound so simple.

"You? Well, I've heard it said you can put enough backspin on a ball to play tennis with yourself..." She laughed, the rest of the story should be entertaining... .

He pulled his brows down in a wounded expression. "That sounds like McCoy. Besides, I'm using my skills for good not evil."

"I take it Mister Spock has been trying to get the powers that be to change the Academy curriculum and they wouldn't listen?"

"Alas, you know the Admiralty so well."

"So he just devises a plan to change the power source--one in his favor."

"You make it sound so clandestine."

"Clandestine is hardly the word I would use. Kiki has no idea she's been out maneuvered before she even started." Nyota wished she could be in audience when the diplomat figured it out for herself.

"Don't think it's been easy. If it were he wouldn't need me to get the changes he wants in play."

"Hardly--Mister Spock will always need you. But I wasn't meaning that--just admiring his subtlety--not a word--not a hint of anything has pointed to him. I bet the hardest part was convincing you to come back." She looked at him hard, waiting to hear his answer. Admitting he made a mistake in leaving was not his style but so far he had surprised her plenty.

"Maybe I was ready to come back." The smile was still in place but the tone was painfully wistful.

Sensing it was time to move on to their situation, Nyota rolled over, holding Kirk down with more than her stare. "So now that I know the game plan and am no longer freaking out over lesson plans already written, where do we go from here? Was last night a onetime thing or does it continue once you're no longer a civilian?" That his current lack of rank most likely played into his decision to spend the night was not lost upon her.

"Again with the pillow talk--" He tried to joke but his smile faltered, mutating into a visage much more intense. "I don't know, Nyota. What do you want? I'm still picking up the pieces after telling someone I was going back to Starfleet. The ending was not pretty. Right now I'm not sure I can give you everything you deserve."

She brought her hand up to gently stroke his cheek, recognizing his confession for what it was--fear of allowing anyone else in. "You forget, Jim, I'm Fleet. I'm not asking for a lifetime--I'm just asking for today."

He smiled, his face lighting up at the sense of understanding she granted him. It was more than he could hope for and definitely more than he deserved. "I can give you that. Want to come help me with the horses?"

~Finis

17.4.10

Healing Touch Chapter 15 and Final K/U [NC-17]

Image courtesy of the Interweb. Thank you, Interweb!
Disclaimer: Paramount owns Star Trek. I only own my fantasies.
Feedback: Yes please, here or by email.

Beta: Sincere gratitude goes to: Nyotava, Bandicca, Zapp and Trekskitten for such wonderful betaing! Each of them brought fresh insight and used their unique expertise to make this story a reality.

Summary: A sequel to "My Faith in You," addressing Uhura's recovery from a brutal attack and the depths of Kirk's commitment to keep her in his world.

***

Her bag was still on the floor, the contents spilling out in the same disarray as her feelings at the moment. She lay there in the near darkness, listening to his steady breathing, illogically frightened that he might stop at any moment if she should drift off. Her conviction to sleep in her old room, or back on ship, had crumbled once she had kissed him again. How could she resist the last chance to feel his embrace?

Mindful of his injury, and McCoy's stern warning, Uhura had pushed him back against the bed and done all the 'work'. She had not asked permission for anything, just coaxed and commanded him to do her bidding. She had savored every inch of his body, knowing each touch was a farewell. He was restrained but responsive, denying her nothing as she fought the demons of their goodbye, his tenderness shredding her heart, as he loved her as no one ever had.

Now, curled against his side, her head pressed against his chest, Uhura wondered how she could leave her passion for him on Potakai. He scared her with the strength of his convictions about them, and about his duty, both only making her more frantic. To go back to just being his comm officer was going to be extremely difficult.

But did she actually think she could allow herself to feel this deeply for him and still sit idly by as he went down on mission after mission? On this one point Uhura knew the answer--no. It scared her to be so close to someone who would throw himself into the fire. She had worried about him when he was just her captain; now it smacked her hard on a completely different level.

She wanted to run away from it, wanted to go back in time those many months ago and stop herself from kissing him on the observation deck. The fear of losing him during the Tholian mission had caused her to act upon feelings his near-death had brought to the surface. It had caused them to dance around each other and confess to feelings they both knew were better left unexamined. That confession had led him to promise she would always have a place by his side, not as a lover but still a vital person in his life. A promise that had forced him to declare martial law on an alien space station in order to rescue her from the Orions. A promise that had forced him to share himself, his heart and his body, in order to keep his word. A sequence of events that happened from that one moment of weakness, one she could do little to rectify now.

She knew it was what McCoy faced every time Jim beamed down. Perhaps only Spock was 'safe' from him - and she had her doubts there. Anyone who got close to Kirk would have to endure the fear of him not coming back one day. She had always known that in theory, but the actual reality of it chilled her blood. She had to back away and allow some distance between them once again. She could not let him any nearer her heart than he already was.

She had to keep reminding herself of why they weren't meant for each other. He was too intense, always pushing and demanding when sometimes all she wanted was peace. He would expect her to advance far quicker in her career than she was wont to go. He was physical and always craving excitement, while she preferred a night at the opera and a slow dance under the stars. But mostly, she wanted someone who would be totally and unequivocally hers, not someone she would have to share with the ship and at least four hundred other people.

And tonight she had come face to face with that terrible intensity so many alien commanders had met--usually to their own undoing: That one brief moment of staring into eyes so deadly. Whether it was her challenge, or her dismissal, that had finally caused him to snap and lay his hands on her, she didn't know. Even through the brightness of his usual aura, she had always sensed there was something dark and dangerous about him. Now she knew what it was - that he was whatever he needed to be in order to win. An image of her White Knight in black armor flashed in front of her eyes and it unnerved her to know he was so driven. It didn't stop her from loving him, but now she knew why she always preferred the shadows. She knew it was only the fact that he had a strong conscience and true friends in Spock and McCoy that kept him grounded.

He had told her all along that he couldn't be what she wanted. He had been honest when he told her they could have nothing past Potakai except to be in each other's world. He had not lied when he said he loved her, yet she realized he had kept most of his true feeling buried from her. It was that which hurt the most, that he needed to shield himself, allowing only a certain amount of vulnerability. Though now she knew it was the only way he could permit himself to be the comfort that she needed.

She contemplated transferring, but felt is was cowardly to run after he had risked so much for her to be able to stay. She did not know why she felt she needed to linger in his light. Like the real sun, it could do quite a bit of damage to one who foolishly remained in its glare without some form of protection. But it was at his side, on his Bridge, that she felt was her place. Perhaps just as another soul to hold vigil for him as Spock and McCoy did. It did not matter, she just knew it was where she belonged.

***

Dawn found Kirk up and rummaging through his cast-off jacket for the extra hypospray McCoy had left him. His shoulder and back were a vivid purple as the deep bruising rose to the surface. The edges of the dermaplas bandage were tinged with blood, a ghastly reminder of the wicked injury underneath the superficial closure.

Uhura silently rose from the bed and took the hypospray out of his hands, adjusting the dial slightly before pressing it against the base of his neck. She could feel the tension leave his body underneath her hands. He murmured a soft, "thank you," as she touched his forehead and ran her fingers through his soft hair, gently encouraging him to lie back down and allow the pain meds to take effect. She curled up next to him--not yet ready to let him go.

***

The morning brought gray shadows into their room, the lack of color reflected in Uhura's mood as she packed up the last of her things. The mission was at an end and its completion closed so many other chapters going on in her life right now. Even though she knew most of them needed to be stamped with "The End," it still made her sad to know how this one finished. No, "and they lived happily ever after," seemed to be written in the stars for them.

Yet a part of her resisted that analogy. *They* might not live happily ever after, but some tiny part of her shouted out that *she* still could. She could still live the life she had always dreamed of living. That was the voice she strived to listen to, the one who tried to tell her how much she had won--instead of the chorus that was singing a dirge of how much she had lost.

"Sugar, you can't lose what you never really had." Nyota lectured softly to herself as she brought her kit into the living area. The room was still gray but Uhura thought she might be seeing a trace of color around the edges.

The staff was gathering in the foyer, waiting to bid their guests farewell. Kirk came in from the balcony; he had been quiet and introspective all morning and Uhura felt him withdrawing from her. It was not a cruel distancing, but a necessary one in order to transition back to the ship and its reality. She accepted it with grace, allowing no sadness to creep into her eyes. Her mind was busy rationalizing that it was all for the best--that she knew they would never truly be happy together--but her heart was still struggling with the idea. Yet, she was far closer to acceptance of it than when she had started the journey.

Kirk glanced her way, taking in that she was ready to go. A small smile crossed his face but Uhura saw that his mind was focused on other things, probably the farewell with Ramsha'ka and Anat. He waited for her to step up next to him before approaching the waiting staff.

It amazed Uhura to see him transform. Gone was the quiet, intense thinker, replaced by the witty and charming diplomat. He started at the far end, thanking each staff member for their warm hospitality and gracious service. Shorn crests fluttered in delight at his praise and deep bows followed one by one as he made his way up to Nesz and Pahzj.

Kirk stepped in front of the young Menage and took her hands, leaning forward and touching them to his brow. It was the courtly form of affection and rarely used outside of the Aristocratic caste, but he did it anyway. Nesz immediately glowed violet and her tiny crest fluttered non-stop. Uhura watched as he smiled warmly at the blushing woman, still holding her hands.

"And Nesz, we want to thank you for your tireless service and generosity during our stay. Lady Uhura and I will miss your care and devotion."

Uhura smiled brightly at Nesz, nodding and murmuring her agreement to his sentiment. She smiled all the more at how Kirk complimented from a Menage perspective, that service and devotion would mean far more to her than anything else he could say, while his affectionate gesture ensured she would be smitten for life.

Finally, letting go of Nesz's hands, Kirk turned his attention to the elder Potakai who stood proudly in front of him. As head householder Pahzj took responsibility for his staff, good or bad. The effusive praise had nearly caused him to burst with pride.

"Ah, Pahzj'dado," Kirk intoned solemnly, adding the rarely used honorific for someone in the Menage caste. As a 'common class,' they were considered familiar and intimate with everyone. To use an honorific meant something very special to a Menage.

"Please let me say that in all my travels I have never been so well cared for. You and your staff have taken care of every possible need for Lady Uhura and myself. I thank you for accepting us into your household."

Pahzj flushed a bit violet himself before regaining his composure.

"It has been and honor and a privilege to serve, Ambassador, My Lady." He bowed low to them both.

"And I have already sent your,'care packages,' as you called them, up to your ship. They seemed very excited at their contents." He remarked in surprise at how a few cases of sjobaberry juice, candies and a selection of liquors could generate such a commotion in orbit.

"Oh yes, Pahzj, you have made my Chief Engineer's day. Thank you again for the thoughtfulness." Kirk and Uhura laughed, mentally picturing Scotty cataloging his 'cultural education' items.

***

The journey to the Audience Hall seemed shorter than usual. Nyota really never wanted to see that place again. It brought unbidden images of berserkers and blood to her mind. The Federation couple had no idea what to expect--a packed house or just the Royal few.

Uhura was glad to see that their send off appeared to be a private affair, only Ramsha'ka, Lilu'ka, Anata'kel and Chota'kel in attendance. Not even Ronar'di was included. Pahzj took them to the base of the stairs, just as he had done several days ago and bowed in humble fashion, announcing his wards in the same tradition as before. However, this time, Ramsha'ka acknowledged the old Menage and they all chose to come down the steps to greet the humans. Uhura saw the look of surprise on Pahzj's face but he quickly schooled it into acceptance. She was sure the Menage was in for a lot more surprises in the days to come. Ramsha was the first to approach Kirk and he gave him a huge smile and a full dip of his crest. Lilu was quickly at his side, mimicking the gestures.

"Zhames, I will miss you. Are you sure you can't be enticed to stay on as our permanent Federation Ambassador?" He asked in a teasing manner.

"Thank you, Your Highness. Your offer would be tempting if I didn't have a ship that needed me." Kirk answered with some sincerity.

"Ah yes, your ship. I'm afraid you have been a bad influence on Chota'kel--he has talked of nothing but spaceships since his rebirth. I fear I am in dire risk of losing a large portion of my fleet to him. Is this how you repay me for the glory of being my heir?" He cast a playfully reproachful look between the starship captain and the Seka caste leader.

"How scandalous--he's only getting a portion of the fleet?" Kirk quipped in mock horror. "I thought I would have taught him better. And speaking of heir--have you named a new one, or am I still on standby?"

"No, sad to say, but I have named Grandmother as my heir until I find a more suitable choice. It bends the rules a bit, but at least she is Potakai." Ramsha grinned sheepishly.

Kirk laughed at the implied insult and shook his head.

"I'm not sad in the least. She has proven to be a strong leader and an excellent tactician. I hazard the ranks will settle down now soon enough."

Anat chose that moment to step into the fray.

"Zhames, you know me so well." She leaned in and kissed him on either cheek--the other Potakai, shocked at her audacity.

"Oh, do come now, Zhames is Human and I merely bid him farewell in the manner of his people. If we must tell him and Nyota goodbye at such an unseemly hour and all alone instead of in great honor, do not act appalled at a small token of affection." She admonished the scandalized glances cast her way, but winked at Kirk and beamed an unrepentant smile. He returned her grin with one of his own, not the least bit embarrassed by her kiss.

"I can never repay the debt I owe both you and Nyota." She continued more somberly, taking them both into her gaze.

"You have given my world a chance at survival and my people a direction in which to grow. The next years will be happy years-- ones not so lonely for me now." She ended almost shyly, looking back at Chota and motioning for him to join her.

"Anata'kel it has been an honor to know you and help in any way I could. I think the Federation is a better place with the Potakai included."

"Zhames," still a man of few words, Chota held out his hand in human-fashion, offering a handshake by way of farewell.

"Chota'kel," Kirk grasped the strong hand and shook it firmly.

Uhura felt the Seka turn his gaze on her. He dropped Kirk's hand and took up her own, bowing low and touching them to his brow.

"My Lady, thank you once again for my life. I am forever your servant and am indebted to your house."

"I was honored to be of service, Chota'kel, and Potakai is richer to still have such a leader." Nyota answered sincerely. For all the turmoil this mission created, the one thing she would never regret was saving their lives.

"Nyota," Anat said reverently as she stepped toward the smaller Human. "I wish it known you are always welcome on Potakai and have a home with the Torga household. And I offer sincere apologies for any wrongs you feel you may have suffered at my whim."

Uhura had to take a deep breath to sustain her; the feelings of gratitude pouring into her from Anat were overwhelming. The last of her anger crumbled under the onslaught and she felt joy in Anat's heart for the forgiveness. As she composed herself, Ramsha'ka and Lilu'ka stepped up to her.

"Lady Uhura, on behalf of the Potakai Star System, I wish to award you the 'Kel'kai' Dia'tane,' or Golden Star of Valor. A representation of the heart, mind and soul of the Potakai mente and offered to you as our humble token of gratitude for the great service you performed for us.

Lilu opened a jewel-encrusted case and allowed Ramsha to lift out a golden five-pointed star threaded on a black ribbon. He motioned for Uhura to lean forward so he could drape it over her head and allow it to rest upon her shoulders. Still in shock, she stood numbly as he scooped up her hands and touched them to her brow in the same expression of affection.

Uhura looked around to see Kirk's reaction to all the attention she was awarded. He stood there and gave her an affectionate grin, obviously not surprised at her being given a medal; in fact, he was acting rather proud of it.

"Zhames, please inform Starfleet and the Federation of the Lieutenant's great assistance to us. We intend to send a formal notice, but that may take a bit longer to get through the diplomatic channels." Ramsha asked of Kirk as he followed her stare. Lilu quickly stepped up and pressed the jeweled case into Ny's hands.

"Of course, Your Highness, it goes without saying." Kirk answered Ramsha, but beamed a genuine smile at Nyota, taking away what little composure she had regained.

The Royals backed away from the humans in a gesture of farewell. Uhura shook herself back to the present and stepped into position next to Kirk as he flipped open his communicator.

"Kirk to Enterprise--two to beam up." He requested as he had on countless other occasions--but this time he looked over at Uhura, holding her gaze for a long moment before the sparkle took them away.

***

They materialized within the familiar confines of the main transporter room. Uhura felt at home as she took in the faces staring back at her--Scotty's, Kyle's and McCoy's--but Spock's was nowhere to be seen. This surprised her, but apparently not Kirk. He stepped off the platform and absently reached back to assist her down as well. It was more attentive behavior than he would have given her in the past, but not too much of a stretch, considering she was still wearing heels.

"Mister Scott, inform Mister Spock to take us out, and ask him to meet me in my quarters in fifteen."

"Aye sir, will do--and I wanae thank ye for the 'care packages.' Mister Pahzj sent up another ten after ye left him this morning. He said he wanted to ‘make' many days for me. A fine gentleman, that one is." Scotty beamed from his newfound wealth. Uhura glanced at Kirk and they both laughed, the buried tension between them eased by the sweet brogue of the engineer.

"Aye Lass, that's some pretty pendant ye be wearing. Might it be a medal for saving the Royal Family?" Scott asked as he caught sight of the golden star around her neck.

"Yes, Mister Scott, you would be right--and I dare say more of those are to come the Lieutenant's way." Kirk answered proudly as Ny blushed.

"It's embarrassing to get a medal for just doing your duty." She answered shyly to Scotty.

"Then let's say you did more than that... and as an early reward, take the rest of the day off. Regular duty can start in the morning." Kirk offered with a knowing smile and gentle nod of his head for her to get gone.

"Thank you, sir" she answered in crisp, military fashion, doing her best to be nothing but thankful and professional. As she turned to go, McCoy stepped up to her and caught her eye.

"Lieutenant, I trust everything went all right after I left?"

"Yes sir, nothing that hypospray couldn't fix." She replied smartly, answering only his surface question. Whether she was referencing her shot, or Kirk's, she left up to McCoy to determine.

"Good. How about we get that pysch scan out of the way this afternoon, shall we?" He asked kindly, his keen eyes heartened by her confidence.

"Yes sir, I'd like that. I'm ready to get on with my life." Uhura answered softly, but now full of hope that she could do so.

"Good, Lieutenant. Now, did our patient follow orders?" McCoy asked a bit louder, bringing Kirk's interest away from Scotty and ship's business to his own. Ny noticed him tense just a fraction--waiting for her to answer.

"Oh, absolutely, Doctor. The Captain always follows orders." She grinned mischievously at Kirk, seeing him relax at her playful, but perfectly normal, reply. It was not as difficult as she feared it would be to find her old rhythm and pattern of interaction with him. After so much had happened between them, finding her old safe, but sassy, nuance had been a concern for her.

"Sure he does, Lieutenant...and which Captain were you discussing?" McCoy got into the banter, glad to see them comfortable with each other.

"That hurts, Bones. I always follow doctor's orders." Kirk offered in mock indignation.

"Yes, and you are going to prove it right now. I came to escort you to Sickbay for that date with my scalpel." McCoy tossed back, warming up for the inevitable delay.

"Give me an hour, Bones. I promise I'll be there in an hour. I need to touch base with Spock before you dope me all up." Kirk danced for time.

McCoy cut his eyes to Uhura and then to Scott and Kyle, looking at them as witnesses before zeroing back in on Kirk. "One hour--I have witnesses. If you're not there by then, I'm sending security after you. And you’d *better* hope I dope you up... ought to use a hammer and catgut..." He grumbled as he rocked up on his toes, aggravated by, but accepting, Kirk's terms.

"Go ahead, that's what I'll feel like you used anyway." Kirk shot back in a tone that spoke of past experiences. Scott and Kyle attempted to contain themselves as Kirk tossed them an aggrieved look before walking past the CMO and Comm Officer, bidding a tactical retreat.

***

Jim sat in his quarters and scanned over the backlog of messages in his queue--if anything, the few days McCoy would confine him to quarters would allow him an opportunity to catch up on them. He absently leaned back in his chair, but quickly sat back up, the edge of the chair gouging into his wounded shoulder and starting the throbbing pain again. He sighed and stared at his chronometer; Spock was not late--yet--but Kirk knew he would not choose to be early.

If he had any idea why Kirk wanted him to come to his quarters, he would stall for as much time as possible. Kirk wanted to ask Spock what he knew of his and Uhura's problem with the meld. Why they had practically become obsessed with each other? Or, to put in more succinctly, what did he know and when did he know it? The door chimed and Kirk glanced at the time--right on the nose.

"Come," he beckoned, allowing Spock to enter.

The tall Vulcan stepped in, calm and stoic. He scanned over his captain, taking in the slight cant of Kirk's shoulder and the tightness of his eyes, attempting to judge if this was more than a quick briefing.

"We have exited orbit, Captain, and are now underway to sector two-two-six for gaseous anomaly research. I trust the Potakai are adjusting to their new emperor and caste structure?" He inquired curiously, sensing nothing amiss from Kirk other than the pain of his delayed treatment.

"I think they will get through it." Kirk answered tiredly and motioned for Spock to sit. Spock sat in the proffered chair, allowing Kirk to stare at him straight-on as opposed to looking up and adding stress to his shoulder.

"Spock…" Kirk began hesitantly, but his eyes flared with keen interest. "Why did you really encourage me to--'act upon my mutual attraction'-- with Uhura? What did you know that you haven't told me?"

"I did not know anything." Spock answered back quickly--too quickly for Kirk's taste.

"All right, you didn't *know* anything. What did you *suspect* then?" Kirk sighed, knowing that any time Spock played semantics, he was in for a battle before getting what he wanted.

"Why do you think my reasons were anything other than what I stated? You risked losing a capable officer and you appeared to be the only man she desired."

"Hold it right there. How did you know that?" Kirk contested.

"Doctor McCoy informed me of the Lieutenant's fixation upon you."

Kirk's eyes lit up at the word 'fixation'. "And you didn't find that strange? That after such a deep meld, Uhura would suddenly be fixated--on me?"

"I often consider Human behavior strange." Spock offered in challenge, but Kirk didn't bite. He didn't chase rabbits as easily as McCoy. He just stared hard at Spock, waiting for a real answer.

"I did consider it unusual," was all that Spock would admit.

"And *my* behavior the past three months--did you consider it normal?" Kirk asked, dragging the answers out of him bit by bit.

"Your behavior was *more intense* than usual, but I surmised it was because of the trauma to one of your officers." Spock offered haltingly.

"And am I normally *so intense* when one of crew is injured? So intense you feel the need to escort me to the gym everyday and beat the *intensity* out of me?" Kirk asked, leaning across the table just a fraction.

"Injury to the crew often affects you for weeks. I assumed your fondness for the Lieutenant colored your emotions more than usual." Spock rebutted.

Tired of the game, Kirk snapped.

"Spock, don't sit there and play dumb with me. Fondness was hardly the color of my emotions where Uhura was concerned. You touched me enough to know that and still you thought that was normal?" He looked skeptically at Spock before continuing.

"No, you did not. And further, you recognized Uhura's behavior was not normal as well. So tell me, why did you encourage me to act upon my feelings for her? Why did you suddenly agree with McCoy that I could solve her problem?" He locked his eyes with Spock's and the Vulcan slumped infinitesimally in his chair.

"Because, once McCoy advised me of the Lieutenant's symptoms, I suspected you may have become fixated with each other during the meld.

"And…you thought that my sleeping with her would cure this…fixation?" Kirk asked, trying to lead Spock to explain further.

"There was scant data, but my research suggested that as a viable option. The only other choices were another meld--one I felt ill-equipped to perform--or seeking out a Vulcan healer, and that was not realistic considering the urgency of our mission."

Kirk's shoulders slumped as he shook his head. "Did you ever think that if you had just told me of your suspicions, I might have reacted differently?" He asked sadly, hurt that even after all they had been through together, Spock still hesitated to come to him without facts.

"I did not have enough pertinent data to present to you. You would not have accepted the choice any better than you did without my suspicions."

"You don't know that." Kirk cut him off.

"Jim, did any of our arguments convince you to act? Look into yourself and see what caused you to change your mind."

Kirk cut his eyes at Spock, raising his chin in consideration of what the Vulcan had just inadvertently confessed. Kirk knew Uhura's resignation to defeat had caused him to reach out to her, but how did Spock know he had done anything at all? The Vulcan, who never made assumptions, wasn't making one now either. Changing tactics, Kirk asked, ""How did the fixation happen, Spock? What went wrong?"

"I believe you overwhelmed the partitioning of your personalities that I had established before removing myself from your interaction."

"--But you weren't affected?" Kirk asked quickly.

"I was not. I was merely the bridge between your minds." Spock added, trying to assuage Kirk's fear.

"Good, good," Kirk answered absently, almost to himself.

"But Spock, don't ever do that again." Kirk warned quickly. "Come to me if you ever suspect something is not right. Let me make the choice based upon all the data. Don't just manipulate the circumstances to achieve your goal. I won't be angry with you, or blame you if you talk to me up front. Now, dismissed. I have a surgery date with McCoy--hold the fort down for me, okay?" He smiled at the Vulcan, motioning for him to go.

"Yes, sir." Spock replied with just a hint of relief in his voice. He had nearly made his escape when Kirk called out--looking at him through the open doorway. His voice low, carrying just to the Vulcan.

"You were there, weren't you?" The Human's gaze tore through his defenses, stealing the truth from him before his shields could mask the answer reflected in his own eyes. Frozen in place, no words were needed. He was trapped by Kirk's stare as he saw through Spock all too easily. His salvation came solely by the automatic closure of the cabin door. Spock took a step back, ensuring it did not open again in sensing his presence and fervently computed the odds that Jim would not open it from the other side. His face flushed in shame as he hurried to the sanctuary of the Bridge.

***

Uhura walked into sickbay just as McCoy walked out of the surgery suite. He looked tired but pleased when he caught her staring at him from near the doorway.

"Hello, Lieutenant, right on time. Just give me a minute to clean myself up and we can get started." He gave her a big smile.

"Sure, Doctor." She smiled back as she sat down in the chair near the inner doorway. "Is the Captain going to be all right?" She asked anxiously, taking his happiness as a good sign.

"Yes, in a few days he'll be wrestling Sam again down in the gym. He's damn lucky I'm so good with catgut." He laughed wickedly as he dried his hands and motioned her to accompany him to the exam room. Just before she followed him in to find out her fate, she stopped and asked quietly.

"Doctor McCoy, do you think I might be able to check in on the Captain after my scan? I promise I'll be quiet. I'd just like to be the one to tell him I passed my test."

McCoy gave her a warm, fatherly smile. "Sure, Uhura. I think that would be just what the doctor ordered."

***

An hour later, Uhura came out of the exam room wearing a smile a laser cannon could not erase. McCoy followed in her wake, grinning almost just as proudly.

"Congratulations, Lieutenant. I knew you could do it." He broke protocol and hugged her in excitement.

"Thank you, Doctor, for having faith in me." She murmured against his cheek as she hugged him back. How wonderful it felt to be able to love and touch again without fear.

"Do you think the Captain is awake now?" She asked in anxious anticipation.

"Let's go find out." McCoy slipped his arm around her shoulder and steered her toward the recovery ward. The doors opened to cool air and dim lighting, a soft steady beep keeping time with Jim's heartbeat. Christine looked up and smiled at them as they neared the bed containing her only patient. Chapel looked at Uhura, raising her brows in an unspoken question. Uhura nodded her head like a giddy schoolgirl and the nurse rushed around the bed to give her a congratulatory hug.

"Is he awake?" Uhura whispered in Christine's ear.

"He's in and out. We have him on some pretty strong meds, but if you call his name he'll open his eyes." Christine answered sympathetically, understanding Uhura's desire to share her good news.

Uhura gave her a big smile as Chris let her go and walked out of the ward with McCoy. She was surprised, but appreciative of the privacy they allowed her. She looked down at the sleeping man on the biobed. Kirk lay on his stomach, his back and shoulders exposed, but a sheet draped the rest of him. His shoulder was smooth again, the dermaplas bandage gone along with most of the bruising. His peaceful face was turned to the left, still so innocent and vulnerable in repose. Ny reached out and stroked his cheek, unable to resist touching him this one last time. His eyes opened at her touch, trying to see who was in the room with him. Ny pulled a chair up near his bed and sat down, leaning in so she would be at eye level with him.

"Hello, Captain." She smiled into his face, waiting while his eyes fought to focus.

"Hi" he managed to say once he recognized her.

"Doctor McCoy let me in for a moment so I could be the one to tell you I passed my pysch scan. He's released me back to active duty." She reached out and brushed his hair back out of his eyes.

"I knew you would." He tried to nod, but settled for giving her a sleepy smile.

"I did because you helped me; I owe my life on Enterprise to you." She whispered as he lost the battle to keep his eyes open. Leaning down, she kissed him on the cheek and breathed, "Thank you," into his ear. A sweet smile lit up his face for a few seconds before the meds claimed him again. Uhura kissed him on the temple once more, saying goodbye to so much more than just her captain. She straightened the sheet over his back and walked out the door--a journey of a few meters than claimed a lifetime.

***

The rec room was alive with the sounds of her friends. Uhura could not remember a sweeter sound as she let the laughter and general nonsense seep into her skin. Chekov popped up like a prairie dog from a corner table and yelled, "Uhura, over here!"

She sauntered over to the table where Chekov sat in high excitement and Sulu gave her a pained look, warning her she probably did not want to hear this. She could tell he didn't.

"Nyota, I am glad you're back! I need someone as ferocious as you to protect me. I don't know vat has heppined to all the women on board, but dey have suddenly lost der minds and have started to smack me on de butt venever they can!"

Uhura burst out laughing--all the old dares coming back to her from that night a few weeks ago.

"Vat is so funny? Ewen Nurse Chapel hez gone crazy. She pinched me vile she vas giving me a shot!"

"Oh, Pavel, lighten up." She quipped at the outraged Russian. "I think you have a cute butt too--can I pinch it?" She reached down as if to do just that and he slapped her hand away.

"Certainly not!" He barked, offended at first and then considered her statement further. "You really tink I heve a cute butt?" He asked curiously. Sulu rolled his eyes and implored Uhura not to egg on this nightmare.

"Well, not as cute as Sulu's, but it's pretty cute." She answered conspiratorially. Perking up at being ranked higher, Sulu regained interest in the conversation.

"Nyet. I tink my butt is much cuter than Sulu's." Chekov replied indignantly. Uhura laughed until tears glittered in her eyes; oh how she had missed the silliness and love of her friends.

***

Uhura wandered in to dim lighting in her quarters, thankful she had had the foresight to realize soft lighting would be a blessing. She had drunk and partied, giggling and laughing with everyone, intent upon catching up for lost time and opportunities. Later on, Chris had joined them, allowing her to celebrate her real victory with someone in the know. She had told Chekov and Sulu that McCoy had released her back to full duty, but it wasn't the same as sharing with someone who knew the whole story.

Much later in the celebration, Mister Spock had ghosted through the room--she had made eye contact from across the room and he had given her a single nod of acknowledgement. It gave Uhura goosebumps how much he reminded her of Chota'di. That Chota'di was now Chota'kel and reminded her of a very different man did nothing to erase the eeriness of Spock's dark eyes and knowing look.

As she stripped off her tunic, she saw the glow from her monitor and walked around to turn it off, silently chastising herself for leaving it on. As her hand rested on the toggle, her fingers froze as her eyes absorbed the message glowing on the screen--the sender anonymous but hardly a secret to her.

Let me confess that we two must be twain,
Although our undivided loves are one:
shall those blots that do with me remain,
Without thy help, by me be borne alone.
In our two loves there is but one respect,
Though in our lives a separable spite,
Which though it alter not love's sole effect,
Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love's delight.
I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,
Nor thou with public kindness honour me,
Unless thou take that honour from thy name:
But do not so, I love thee in such sort,
As thou being mine, mine is thy good report

Ny's eyes watered as she read the words over and over, so touching and sweet a sentiment from the man in sickbay now sleeping a dreamless sleep. Uhura hit the print key to mortally capture in hard copy the words that had stenciled themselves into her heart.

Finis

~ID'ic

11.4.10

Healing Touch Chapter 14 K/U [NC-17]

Image manipulation courtesy of mostly me
Disclaimer: Paramount owns Star Trek. I only own my fantasies.
Feedback: Yes please, here or by email.

Beta: Sincere gratitude goes to: Nyotava, Bandicca, Zapp and Trekskitten for such wonderful betaing! Each of them brought fresh insight and used their unique expertise to make this story a reality.

Summary: A sequel to "My Faith in You," addressing Uhura's recovery from a brutal attack and the depths of Kirk's commitment to keep her in his world.

***

Ronar'di was the first to greet them as they re-entered the Audience Hall.

"Ah, Ambassador, fortunate for you it was old General Mora'di who turned rogue instead of me. Otherwise, you would not have been so lucky." The new, young Warrior Chief of Staff fairly beamed at him and ignored Uhura, the winner of that confrontation, altogether. So different from Chota'di, this one.

"Yes, my good fortune, I'm sure." Kirk answered back with a smile that did not reach his eyes.

Ramsha'ka and Lilu'ka approached in a quick step, obvious relief on their faces as they took in the sight of the two humans. Ronar stepped back, allowing them some privacy.

"Ambassador, My Lady, Grandmother said you were injured and that your doctor was treating you. It pleases us to see you both well." Ramsha'ka voiced sincerely. Both Aristocrats scanned over the two Humans, trying to ensure they were fine. They sensed discord, but not the reason for it.

"Thank you for your concern, Your Highnesses." Kirk answered with a slight bow of his head. The movement caused a slight twinge of his eyes--neither Potakai saw it, but Uhura did.

"Speaking of Anata'ka, where is the Dowager?" Kirk asked casually.

"She and Chota'di are in deep conference with the crèche mothers and the high priest. Both your actions have caused quite a stir amongst the hierarchy and households. I cannot say I disagree with her, now that she has told me what your plan was, but I'm glad she did not confide in me earlier. I would not have allowed it."

The new emperor shook his head in resignation as Uhura stared at him in shock. He was *glad* Anat kept it to herself? He was *happy* to have been excluded? Ramsha'ka turned to her, his attention drawn by her tiny start of surprise, but Lilu chose that moment to speak.

"And Nyota, how brave of you to engage Mora'di. A Potakai berserker is nothing to trifle with, but then it should be a given that neither is a Starfleet officer. Now I know it is a fallacy to assume our greater height makes us superior in battle. You proved today that your human strength far surpasses anything we consider normal."

Uhura recognized Lilu's intervention as just that--a way to distract Ramsha and change the topic. Thankful, she smiled gratefully at the Empress, even if the new topic was not much better.

"Thank you, Your Highness." Accepting the praise with only a slight flush, Nyota felt their attention upon her. She felt Kirk's gaze upon her, quietly assessing her response, but now the smile on his face was genuine.

"Well, shall we make our entrance to the ball, now? It still started on time." Ramsha'ka grinned at the humor of partying in the face of adversity.

"Since I have no idea when Grandmother shall finish her discussions, and you are still my heir, I think it apropos that we greet the households together."

"I'm sure that will liven up the party." Kirk replied in his best deadpan. "Any idea how long I'm going to own my new title?"

"What, Zhames, tired of dodging threats already?" Ramsha laughed loudly.

"No, no--it's not that, exactly--it's just that Starfleet frowns on its officers moonlighting as planetary rulers." Kirk answered mildly.

Laughing harder, Ramsha answered as he motioned them toward the ballroom. "I promise to relieve you of that title soon, but let them ponder it for awhile…."

***

The party had gone on for hours and showed no sign of slowing down, their entrance only a slight hiccup in the grand celebration.

Uhura tried to focus on what one of the Governors was saying to her as they danced Potakai-style. She felt like she had danced with every man in the room--some of them twice--and wanted nothing more than to sit down and enjoy some peace and quiet for a few minutes. In Potakai tradition, she and Kirk had split up and worked the room separately. Tonight she was grateful for the custom because it allowed her some time to sort through her emotions and figure out why she was so angry with him.

It boiled down to a matter of trust. He had not trusted her and that hurt. Keeping Anat's plan to himself was tantamount to lying, and after his speech about honesty their first night together, that hurt even more. No trust and no honesty equaled no respect--and that hurt most of all. She was no longer sad; now she was mad. Such realizations had kept her at a slow simmer all night.

She glanced across the dance floor and saw Kirk dancing in Human fashion with Lilu. She noticed, not for the first time tonight, that his left hand was resting low on his partner's hip. Most of his dances had been at the female's request and nearly all of those had been in some version of Human dance. Whether this was his choice or theirs, she did not know. However, the dreamy looks on the women's faces made her suspect them as the culprits, while Kirk acquiesced so he didn't have to hold his injured arm up for long. The bitch inside of her took guilty pleasure in knowing their hands resting on his shoulder had to be painful.

The music stopped in mid-tune and everyone turned to the entryway. Standing there in full Royal posture was Anata'ka, and at her side Chota'di, who no longer wore a uniform, but instead a handsomely tailored suit. After a moment of everyone frozen in place, Ramsha'ka walked up to them, greeting her as an equal and in obvious acceptance. Soon, the others followed. Uhura's current dance partner graciously excused himself and made his way to the Dowager as well.

Finally able to take a break, Uhura sat down at a corner table, grateful for the respite and in no hurry to greet Anat. If she was angry with anyone right now more than Kirk, it was Anat. She had manipulated them all, playing with their emotions and their fears in order to orchestrate her plan.

"Are you ready to greet the new clan leaders?" Kirk asked quietly, catching Uhura off guard. His tone was guarded, not expecting a change in her attitude since their last encounter.

"That's why we stayed, isn't it? To be--seen? To show the Potakai we won't be scared away by some little attempted assassination?" She whispered back sarcastically.

Kirk's face clouded and she expected to be busted back to ensign, if not worse, but whatever he started to say was swallowed as he took a deep, cleansing breath before trying again.

"If you want to look at it that way. I prefer to think we're helping stabilize a culture that just might tear itself apart and maybe salvage a relationship between the Federation and the Potakai. But maybe that's just me. Now, are you ready to make our appearance?" The tone was a question, but the look that came with it was an order.

"Yes, sir." She answered tightly as she took his proffered right arm, for once not interested in the bigger picture.

The crowd parted before them, acknowledging their rank without demure. Uhura found herself face to face with Anat and Chota'di much too soon.

"Ah, Zhames, you look much better than last I saw you. I am very glad you are still with us." She smiled with deep sincerity at him before turning her attention toward Uhura.

"And Nyota, I am forever in your debt for saving all our lives. Your courage saved millions of lives, not just us few." The Dowager actually bowed to the stunned consort.

"You're welcome, Your Highness, but I just did my duty." Uhura murmured quietly, she had no wish for Anat to feel any obligation to her.

"Yes, I know. Strange how duty interferes with reason and normal behavior--taking hold of one and bending them to its will." Anat remarked in a conversational tone, but her eyes were focused on Uhura's face.

"Yes, strange indeed." Nyota answered to all the layers of her statement.

"Zhames!" Chota'di exclaimed in barely contained enthusiasm. "It's all so clear to me now." He flashed a most Kirk-like smile at them and Uhura felt her world spin around. Kirk grinned back and it was like an old camera negative was being compared to its photograph. He did not even ask what was so clear, because Kirk knew, even if the others did not.

"And now you have years to explore all of it." Anat spoke lovingly to Chota, briefly excluding them from her conversation with her -- what? What was Chota'di to her now?

"So, Zhames, may I have one last dance? I promise good behavior and no tugging on your shoulder." Anat's smile started out impish, but the mention of his injury subdued it.

"Of course, Your Highness. I would be honored." Kirk bowed slightly, then escorted the Dowager onto the floor.

The crowd parted, recognizing dismissal when they saw it. Uhura watched them move together--Anat at her word, keeping her hands at Kirk's waist and right shoulder--knowing that the Dowager merely wanted a private forum to speak with Kirk.

"Nyota, would you teach me that dance?" The warm tone and familiar smile unnerved her as she looked up at the tall Potakai.

"Of course, Gen- I mean Chota-di." Uhura caught herself, moving out on the floor with him and placing one of his hands around her waist and holding the other in a firm grasp.

"Oh, it's not Chota'di anymore either. Now I'm known as Chota'kel, just as Anat is now known as Anata'kel. Kel means 'star' and we are now clan leaders of the Seka Caste--those who would seek out the stars." His chest puffed out in pride as he said this, his normally somber face totally surrendering to his new grin.

"We may never get to see the stars ourselves, most of our immediate future will be spent dealing with establishing our new caste. Mostly, hammering out the protocols with the crèche mothers and brokering with Ramsha'ka for part of his fleet." He mused in a mixture of excitement and resignation.

"It sounds like quite a challenge." Nyota answered distractedly as they moved across the floor. He had picked up the steps rapidly and was leading quite well.

"Why are you angry with Zhames and Anat?" He asked curiously, causing Uhura to falter and miss a step.

"Quit reading my mind." She said flatly, attempting to warn him off.

"Anat is the mind-reader. I am merely observant." He replied with a too-innocent air.

"Was it so wrong to save millions of Warriors--to find a way to channel our instinctive aggression into something less destructive?"

Ohhhh…. The look and the logic were getting to her.

"Not when you put it that way, no, I guess not. It wasn't the goal that was the problem, but how it was carried out." She finally voiced.

"Ahh--and you were excluded and that has made you angry--especially with Zhames." He spoke mostly to himself, trying to understand her anger.

"I don't want to discuss it." She warned again.

"Anat asked him to keep her secret. She expressly asked him not to share with you for fear of it becoming known--"

"For fear I might not be able to keep a secret you mean." She bit back.

"No, for fear another sensitive might attempt to read your thoughts. Nyota, even I, who had the most to gain personally, would have struck her down to stop such a plan. I would have had no choice but to act upon my pono tomau. As a Human, I'm sure that is something very hard for you to understand, but you do understand duty. It would have been the harshest order I could ever imagine, but I would have carried it out."

"I liked you better when you were the strong, silent type." Uhura retorted testily.

Chota's crest flattened in surprise at her barb, but his smile did not falter.

"But my eyes were closed to so many possibilities then, Nyota. Do you wish me still blind to the beauty before me? Did you know your eyes glitter like stars when you are angry?"

"Now you're sounding too much like him. Stop it. Turn the charm down a few degrees."

Chota tried to look contrite, but even in that, Nyota saw Kirk's mannerisms. She kept it to herself, but she could not control a slight roll of her eyes.

"Excuse me, I do find strange thoughts popping into my head. Anat assures me they will dissipate, that my new insight will settle and mesh with who I've always been." He offered, not in apology, but merely by way of explanation.

"But you're still angry with him…" Chota continued, not willing to let the subject drop.

Uhura looked around the room, seeking an escape from his questioning. She noticed Jim and Anat were still together, dancing closely. It was obvious they were in deep communion.

"You could leave, but someone would notice. They would wonder why the Consort runs from the Ambassador."

"I'm not running--" she hissed, but realized it was exactly what she was thinking, "--from him." She added. "I'm just not interested in answering your questions. Why do you care if I'm angry?"

"Ah, so you are angry." He grinned as if getting this tiny confession out of her was all he wanted.

"Fine. I'm angry. Now are you happy?"

"No, I am not happy that you're angry, but I am glad that you admitted it to me." He clarified, her sarcasm lost in translation.

"It matters to me in that I like you and owe a great debt of gratitude to you both, to Zhames for giving me a new perspective on life, and to you, Nyota, for giving me a new perspective on love. I do not wish to see such anger between two I respect so much."

Uhura looked up into the yellow eyes that looked tenderly into her own. Her anger, at least at Chota'kel, vanished and she smiled shyly in response to the warmth his look generated within her.

"Don't worry, we'll work it out between us. We've been through too much together for this to end our relationship." She hoped that was not a lie.

***

The ball finally wound down, allowing the Federation couple to excuse themselves. Anat had always been somewhere else when Uhura had briefly found herself partner-less. Now, as they bid their farewells, she stood proudly, towering over Uhura with no semblance of shame. Her eyes were warm, but guarded, as she acknowledged their bland pleasantries. Uhura found it eerily strange to only be conversing with her on a verbal level for a change.

Kirk stepped up next to her, offering his own goodnights to the Aristocrats and Sekas. He drew near, but did not touch her as he encouraged Uhura to lead the way back to their apartments. He was quiet all the way back. A few stolen glances at him told Uhura he was in pain--the tightness around the eyes--telling. She kept the silence between them, knowing it would not last. Even through the veil of his command presence, she sensed anger from him. Good. She did not want to be the only one shouting.

As they entered their apartments, Pahzj asked if they needed anything else of him. Their murmurs of "No, thank you" were met with a hesitant bob of his head. He obviously sensed the tension between them, but had no idea what to do. After no further acknowledgement from either of them, he left.

Finally alone, Uhura stalked into 'their' bedroom, starting to collect her things. No, tonight she could not stay in this room. In fact, she might just choose to beam back to the ship. Let the ambassador make his excuses for her in the morning in their formal farewell.

"So, are you ready to tell me why you're so angry? Or do I just get to watch you throw things?" He asked baitingly as she missed her bag and tossed her brush on the floor.

Bending down to pick up the brush, she whirled on him, fire flashing in her eyes.

"You *knew* what Anat had planned--and you kept me in the dark! You nearly got killed and I nearly stood there and watched it happen!"

Hot tears of rage were running down her cheeks. Impotent rage that sent shivers down her spine. She knew she was out of control, but she did not care. Nothing mattered.

"You forget yourself, Lieutenant." Kirk's tone was cold and cutting, but Uhura had seen a look of surprise gloss his face before he schooled it into stone.

"I forget? I forget? Who forgot their big speech about honesty? Your silence was as good as a lie." She spit out between gritted teeth, pushing past him in dismissal as she continued to collect her gear.

"I never lied!" Kirk snapped as he reached out, his injury momentarily forgotten, and grabbed her as she passed him.

Uhura felt herself spun around and held in an iron grip. She looked up into his eyes and saw such a look of furious indignation that she cringed. Her cower made Kirk react as if someone had thrown ice water over him. He looked at his hands as they gripped her arms and made himself let go of her. He backed away, dropping his arms to his sides.

"I never lied to you." He repeated--this time deadly calm. "I promised Anat I would keep her confidence. I kept my word."

"What about your word to me?" Ny asked in anguish.

"Penda, Starfleet sent me here to bring the Potakai into the Federation, to make allies with Anat at all costs. She told me her price for that alliance and I paid it. It was for the greater good to risk myself rather than banish millions of Warriors to death. I'm sorry for hurting you in the process; it wasn't a matter of trust. I would have told you if I could have, but I won't apologize for carrying out my duty and honoring my oath. I told you I couldn't be more to you than I already was. My duty has to come first. It's not what I want but it is the reality of our situation." His voice softened at the last, as if he didn't have the energy or the desire to be angry anymore.

"Would you have told Spock if he were here instead of me?" She rubbed her tingling arms and backed away from him.

Turning away from her and looking out into the blackness of the sea, he answered. "No, I wouldn't have. He would have known, but I wouldn't have told him."

And Uhura knew he was right--Spock would have *known*--but she didn't, couldn't, and he should have told her so she could have better prepared to protect him....

"But you nearly died…" Was all she could think to say, the cruelness of that shock still pressing down on her.

"Yes, I nearly died, Penda, but I didn't--you saved me. Someday I might not be so lucky, but you can't keep me all tucked in and safe on the Bridge. Nobody can--not you, not McCoy, not Spock." He turned back to face her, all anger gone, replaced by a look of sad determination.

"And you'll push away anyone who tries…" She added to his decree.

"There are limits." He answered with quiet finality.

What were *her* limits? How did she fit into his life once back aboard Enterprise? How much had really changed between them? All these questions crashed into each other, forming the most important one that demanded an answer.

"What am I to you?" Uhura begged, the mystery of his true feelings more than she could bear. She had to know what she meant to him--here--now.

"You're beautiful." Kirk answered, reaching out to brush his fingers across her cheek.

Uhura flinched back from his caress, too aware he could control her with one touch. She let the anger she felt goad her to demand more from him: platitudes and stock answers were no longer good enough.

"I need more than that." Her voice was raspy, raw with emotion.

"You're the woman I see whenever I think of the Enterprise. You're acceptance, a safe haven, home. Your presence soothes and nurtures me. Your beauty makes my heart quicken."

To another woman, being compared with a ship would be insulting, but Uhura knew differently. She understood Kirk's relationship with his ship and how much he loved her, how much of his soul was tied to its being. But did that love transcend to her? She had to ask; she had to know.

"Does love have any place here?" She stared into his eyes, waiting for an answer--needing an answer.

Kirk stepped back and dropped his hands to his sides, mindful she would not allow his touch, aware he had touched her far too much already.

"Yes, a strong love, a forever love, a love worth dying for--but not an 'in love'." He answered in a halting voice. Uhura knew his confession was hard for him, but she refused to show pity. Instead, she kept staring, silently insisting he say more, his answer only begging more questions.

"My feelings about you are too entangled with the ship, our positions." Kirk began, struggling for words, his voice entreating her to understand.

"It's hard for me to see who you really are instead of what you've been to me. I've grown too attached to the loyalty and support you've given me to risk that on something I know we can't have."

Uhura watched as his eyes came into sharp focus, switching from introspection to suddenly challenging for his own answers. "What am I to you?"

"You're my protection from evil, my champion in battle, my handsome and gallant knight--and my image of you is far too perfect to be real. I'm in love with 'the Captain', but he is just a persona, an alter-go of the real man. The real man I barely know; I've only been allowed to see that man in glimpses--tired moments when the hero has let his guard down."

Uhura saw that he was stunned by her words. She held his eyes and continued, the words spilling from her lips and taking her anger with them.

"Would I be disappointed with the real man? No, but I think I would be consumed and burned to ashes if exposed for any length of time to the real James Tiberius Kirk. In many ways you remind me of Apollo--golden hair and skin, your warm eyes--so like the sun. Your intensity about life so brilliant, blinding to those who would dare to look at you. And like Apollo, you're trapped by your need to move, never allowed to linger in one place."

Uhura moved toward Kirk, no longer angry that he had kept her in the dark, finally accepting that he had done what he felt was right to honor his word. Her fear of losing him was still with her, a reconciliation still to be made. She reached out and stroked his face, forgiveness in her caress. He shut his eyes and leaned into her touch. She leaned in, kissing him tenderly on the lips, feeling his arms encircle her and pull her close before she pushed back a little--enough to finish what she needed to say.

"In love, as in life, you crave the rapids, and I prefer the deep, still waters. Somehow, right now, I think we're caught in an eddy line--a boundary between the two forces. We can't move backward or forward until we come to terms with our feelings for each other. I know you feel passionately about me, but only you can forgive yourself for feeling passionately for me. I absolved myself for loving you long ago."

With that she pulled him to her, kissing him as if there were no tomorrow. For her, there was not.

***

TBC

~ID'ic